For many rural economies, the health care sector is often the largest employer offering above average wages with benefits. Often unnoticed, the rural health care sector plays a significant role in a rural county’s success in economic development.
- Because the local health care sector serves local residents, health care expenditures are captured locally, and as a result, these dollars stay within the rural economy.
- The healthcare sector attracts outside dollars into a rural economy from outside sources, primarily through payments from private insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid.
- The existence of a quality rural healthcare sector is important in retaining existing rural businesses as well as attracting new economic sectors into a rural economy.
- A high quality health care sector can assist in retaining and/or attracting medical professionals to the rural economy.
- A local healthcare sector can support and promote a healthy and productive workforce within the rural economy.
In many instances, the economic importance of the health care sector is described as its county economic impacts on number of jobs and labor income (employee compensation and proprietor income). The University Center for Economic Development, University of Nevada, Reno's Extension and University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine’s Office of Statewide Initiatives have worked together to estimate these economic impacts for urban and rural Nevada counties.
For example in Humboldt County, direct, indirect and induced impacts using the “multiplier effect” were calculated. The analysis found that the Humboldt County health care sector generated approximately $32.4 million in labor income and 647 jobs within Humboldt County.
County studies will be continued as a partnership with the new national Center for Economic Analysis for Rural Health housed at the University of Kentucky.
Thomas Harris, Ph.D., is a foundation professor in the Department of Economics of the College of Business at University of Nevada, Reno; a state specialist in community and economic development with Extension; and director of the University Center for Economic Development.
John Packham, Ph.D., is the associate dean of University of Nevada, Reno's School of Medicine's Office of Statewide Initiatives; associate professor in the school's Department of Internal Medicine; and co-director of the Nevada Health Workforce Research Center.